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'I felt exposed,' alleged victim tells former medic's court martial hearing

'I felt exposed,' court martial hears

GATINEAU, Que. — Two women accusing a former military medic of breach of trust told a military tribunal Monday they thought they were being seen by a doctor when he allegedly told them he needed to examine their breasts.

There were no introductions when they arrived for what they thought were routine medical checkups prior to joining the Canadian Forces, both women testified.

Nor, they said, did the military give them any instructions prior to the medical exam on what they should expect.

But before long, it was obvious to each that the examinations were anything but routine, the two women told the court martial hearing of former petty officer James Wilks.

Wilks, whose job mainly involved the medical screening of military recruits, is accused of several incidents of breach of trust and one count of sexual assault in connection with complaints filed by women in Thunder Bay, London and Windsor, Ont.

From 1984 until early 2011, Wilks worked as a medical assistant and medical technician at Canadian Forces recruiting centres.

At least one complainant said her breasts were fondled during the recruitment process while others were asked to bare their breasts in separate incidents between 2004 and 2009.

"I felt exposed," one 23-year-old woman testified.

The woman, who cannot be identified under a court-imposed publication ban, was just 16 when she joined the military and was told she needed a medical exam at recruitment centre in London, Ont.

She testified that Wilks asked to see her breasts when she indicated on a medical history form that she had a nipple piercing.

It wasn't until two years later that she reported the incident to her superiors after a conversation with other female military colleagues, she said.

The soft-spoken petite woman cried under cross examination when Wilks's defence attorney, retired major David Hodson, suggested her testimony was false.

An earlier witness, a 30-year-old Navy lieutenant who joined the Forces 11 years ago, said she underwent a medical exam in Thunder Bay when she was 19, and another a number of months later.

She told the court she was asked to lower her blue hospital gown as she sat in the examination room across from Wilks, who she said visually inspected her breasts after asking her if she had any problems with them.

The woman also testified that Wilks pushed on her abdomen so hard during the exam that she experienced pain and had to see her family physician days later because she was still feeling discomfort.

After she was told to return for a second examination, the woman said she spoke about it with her mother, but had difficulty recalling any details of their conversation.

Lead prosecutor Maj. Adam Van Der Linde told the court martial's four-man, one-woman panel that Wilks conducted breast exams on six women, even though medical technicians are forbidden by military protocol of conducting such exams.

Van Der Linde said Wilks time and again told female recruits to expose their breasts, while never identifying himself as a technician rather than a doctor.

"In doing so he breached the trust of these women," said Van Der Linde. "And in one case he assaulted the victim."

The court martial gets underway as the Canadian Armed Forces wrestles with what retired Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps described as a sexualized culture that's hostile to women and unsupportive of victims.

Gen. Jonathan Vance, Canada's chief of the defence staff, has also made it clear he intends to discharge from the Forces anyone found to have committed sexual misconduct, regardless of whether they reached a deal in a military court.

The court martial panel is expected to hear two weeks of testimony.

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Terry Pedwell, The Canadian Press